A gay couple from rural NSW have become the first people to successfully sue under HIV vilification laws.
The couple — whose identities and location have been suppressed — were awarded $10,000 by the NSW Administrative Decisions Tribunal, for the emotional toll they paid after former friends threatened to shoot them and began telling town members they had AIDS.
A solicitor for the HIV/AIDS Legal Centre, Melissa Woodroffe, who represented the pair, said the ruling was a legal landmark.
“As far as we are aware, this is the first complaint of HIV vilification that’s been upheld by the ADT,” she told Sydney Star Observer.
“It’s quite a big thing, considering the legislation has been there since the mid-’90s.”
Following a row over the 2007 elections, the applicants had a falling-out with two friends, who went on to physically and verbally threaten them.
The ADT specifically ruled over a series of comments and actions made at the local pub where the defendants loudly discussed wanting to get a gun to “rid this town of these filthy faggots”.
They also told locals not to sit with the men, or buy goods from the store where one worked because “they have AIDS, they belong in the gutter”.
The ADT agreed the comments were intended to incite hatred and ridicule — a notoriously difficult point to demonstrate, according to Woodroffe.
“HIV vilification is really difficult to prove,” she said. “You need conduct that is in public and that incites hatred or contempt, which is unfortunately difficult to substantiate.”
In this case, the pair had maintained an ongoing record of comments on a calendar, which was later submitted into evidence.
“If this kind of thing is happening, it’s really important to keep records of what happens on a day-to-day basis,” Woodroffe said.
The decision will set an important precedent in future HIV vilification cases.
“We’ve now got a full, written decision from the ADT. In future cases, we’ve got something that has good discussion which we can base arguments upon,” Woodroffe said.
“It’s still a tribunal, not a court ruling, but it’s good.”
She welcomed the ADT’s decision to suppress all identifying material in the case on the grounds of the men’s status.
“I think that might alleviate some of the concerns people have had in the past about coming forward,” Woodroffe said.
“[The men involved} were really brave in seeing this out. They’re doing well now and are pleased to have some closure.”
info: To contact the HIV/AIDS Legal Centre visit www.halc.org.au or call 9206 2060.